Thompson Returns to Starkville, Tigers Set to Tangle with Bulldogs
Casey Mize is set to return to the mound this weekend at Mississippi State, but when?
(Photo: Auburn Athletics/Wade Rackley)
“Our last six games have been against the top team in the Southeastern Conference.” That is one way that Head Coach Butch Thompson views his team’s upcoming series with #8 Mississippi State in Starkville. Last weekend, Arkansas entered Plainsman Park as the top team in the SEC West and had the best record in the league. After Auburn took two of three from the Hogs, and Mississippi State swept Alabama, the Tigers find themselves in the same situation as last weekend. This time, if Auburn salvages the series at Dudy Noble Field, they will hold the tiebreaker over both teams. This will also be an emotional series for Thompson, as this will be his first trip back to Starkville after spending 2009-2015 as pitching coach for the Bulldogs. Having breakfast with his daughter Anna, who is a freshman at Mississippi State, as well as visiting his father and everyone that he has developed a relationship within the program over the years are just a few things that Thompson is looking forward to on his return trip. “(Mississippi State) prepared me well, Auburn has given me this opportunity (to be a head coach), at some point this weekend it is going to be a pretty neat feeling of “man, I’ve got it made. I’m a pretty lucky dude.” Another headline is Casey Mize’s availability to pitch this weekend. Last week, Thompson announced that Mize would not be available to pitch in the Arkansas series due to soreness and fatigue after throwing over 110 pitches in starts against South Carolina and Texas A&M. Mize has three games so far this season in which he has thrown over 100 pitches, only one other weekend starter has reached the century mark, that was Davis Daniel on April 15 at Tennessee. Thompson is not ready to say when he will pitch, but he is confident that Mize is healthy enough to pitch when called upon. Mize has worked on bouncing back all week by having a long-toss session on Monday, and by throwing 60 pitches in a bullpen session Wednesday. After meeting with Mize and trainer Sean Stryker Thursday morning prior to the team’s departure for Mississippi State, it was determined that Mize was healthy enough to make the 27-man roster, but with rain expected in the forecast for Sunday, Thompson wants to make sure the weekend is planned out before he makes a decision on when to throw Mize. At the time of this article being posted, Keegan Thompson will start Friday, Davis Daniel gets the nod on Saturday, and Sunday’s starter will be announced at a later time. On to Mississippi State, the Bulldogs enter the series one game up on Auburn for the SEC West lead at 13-5 in league play, 29-14 overall. The Bulldogs were a victim of a sweep at Arkansas to open SEC play March 17-19, where every series except one was decided by a three-game advantage. Since then, Mississippi State has won every weekend series, including sweeps vs Tennessee, Alabama, and Ole Miss. The Bulldogs are currently on a four-game winning streak after sweeping Alabama last weekend, and taking the Governor’s Cup on Tuesday against arch-rival Ole Miss in Pearl, Mississippi. Mississippi State has hit the ball well all season long, and it all starts with Brent Rooker. The junior first baseman is hitting .403 in 43 starts with 17 home runs and 61 RBI. The lead off man is Jake Mangum, he has recorded 60 hits and 16 RBI while batting .345. Both players are considered to be first and second team All-Americans by a few publications. Mississippi State will two right-handers and a lefty this weekend against Auburn, starting with sophomore Konnor Pilkington who enters with a 4-3 record and a 3.30 ERA on Friday. Pilkington has won two straight decisions over Kentucky and Alabama, striking out 12 and walking five in those two games. Cole Gordon gets the nod on Saturday. The right-hander that stands a tall 6’5” 253 pounds has two wins on the year, both in non-conference play. His last outing was a 4 inning performance against Alabama in game one of last Friday’s doubleheader, where he struck out four and walked four. He struck out a season-high six batters at Kentucky on April 8th. Finally, Jacob Billingsley gets the nod on Sunday. The junior tied a season-high in strikeouts with six against Mississippi Valley State on April 11th, which was his first and only win of the season to this point. He walked a batter in 0.1 innings of work against Ole Miss on Tuesday. The Bulldogs are also known for using position players on the mound if needed. Jake Mangum, for instance, has a 6.46 ERA in six appearances with five starts. He has walked seven and struck out nine. #5 Auburn travels to #8 Mississippi State this weekend to determine the lead in the SEC West. FRIDAY- 6:30 P.M. THOMPSON vs PILKINGTON SATURDAY- 7 P.M. DANIEL vs GORDON SUNDAY- 12 P.M. TBA vs BILLINGSLEY